Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Spokane Valley Heritage Museum: Go Visit This Summer!

Spokane Valley Heritage Museum

Need an idea for a summer educational-staycation?  How about a visit to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum where you can show your children how Grandma used to get water at her kitchen sink!

First it was the Opportunity Town Hall, built in 1912, and which is today on the Historic Landmarks Register. Since August 18, 2005, the historic building has been home to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. Jayne Singleton has been the motivating force behind the coming together of this museum and is currently the director.

The mission of the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum is “to collect, preserve and exhibit the history and culture of the Spokane Valley for the education and inspiration of the community.”

Collecting the history of an area bordered on four sides by Peone Prairie (north), Havana Street (west), Post Falls (east) and Rockford (south) has been no small undertaking. Today the collection includes 2245 items in house, which includes 1188 objects or artifacts, 903 photos and 497 items of reference in their archives.

Jayne explained to me (when I visited on May 21, 2016) that the oldest item in their catalog if an 1865 ledger from Fort Walla Walla. “That’s not in the Spokane Valley!” I exclaimed. With a big smile, Jayne explained that this fort was on the principle trade and migration route from north to south, east to west, and contains much information about early Spokane.

Besides static exhibits like those exploring the Native Americans living in this area when the white men first came, they have revolving exhibits (sometimes with materials from the Smithsonian Institution).

I learned from a quote penned in 1811 by Alexander Henry that “the Spokanes are a tribe of the Flat Heads; speaking nearly the same language. They dwell along the Spokane River being content to live on the produce of their own. Red and Fallow deer are their principle food (NOTE: probably elk and whitetail deer), with a variety of roots peculiar to the country west of the Rocky Mountains.”
George Gibbs, in 1854, wrote that “the Spokehnish, or Spokanes, lie south of the Schwoyelpi and chiefly upon or near the Spokane River. Judging from what we saw, and the information received from various sources, they probably amount to….. 450 people.”

A smaller sign explained that besides food, these peoples used the deer for clothing (hides), tools (bones), and used the tongues for moccasins.

One of the two current revolving exhibits spotlights Washington’s first governor, Isaac A. Stevens. Governor from 1853 to 1857, “he was a man either loved or hated but seldom ignored.” (Author Kent Richards.) After all his involvement in Washington Territory, Stevens went on to be a Brigadier General in the Civil War, dying at the Battle of Chantilly (Virginia) on September 1, 1862. I went to the museum that Saturday to learn more about this man, and I surely did!

Museum director, Jayne Singleton, took plenty of time to explain to me that they are a “smaller museum but have big vision.” Realizing that there was “no place to go to learn the history of the people, events and places in the Spokane Valley area,” she has certainly addressed and rectified that situation. “We regularly host school field trips; we had 90 students in here once!” she said.
In the museum’s archives, I spotted the Valley Herald newspaper, 1935-1985, and two shelves of binders with labels such as “Spokane Valley Historic Sites,” or “Photos,” and a nearly full shelf of high school yearbooks. A metal filing cabinet is full of biographical folders. They boast of an in-house-only computer database (“although we hope to get this online soon,” Jayne said) where you can search by subject, people or events.

During my visit, two different people came in with research requests. Jayne says this is typical. “People are always calling, writing or coming in wanting information about their ancestors who lived in this area.”

In their educational backyard, I spotted a wooden water pipe circa 1903. A wooden water pipe!
The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 11:00 to 4:00 and on Saturdays from 11:00 to 5:00. There is a small admission fee. Call to schedule a group: 509-922-4570. Or email Their website is
The Spokane Valley Historic Archives has its own website!  Click to From this page you can peek into their photo archives and much more.

The museum has a strict “No Photographs” policy for many good reasons. But I was given permission to photo this collection of kitchen sink pumps in their “backyard” collection. Such pumps, also called pitcher pumps, were “used to pump water from shallow wells and cisterns to kitchen sinks.”  Anybody remember doing this?

As a postscript, the town of Veradale was named for Vera, daughter of D.K. McDonald. Who was he? Guess I’ll have to go back to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum and find out!

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